There are good versions of the being-watched feeling: that buzz you get when you catch a girl looking at you, or when someone is watching you play an instrument and you can tell that they’re impressed. But then there’s the bad version. That eerie, nauseating feeling that your actions are being monitored, analysed even.
I’m not sure why anybody would want to watch me, I’m boring. Sixteen and doing nothing beyond okay at my local school. But, still, I think I’m being watched. All the signs are there: deliberate footsteps in the distance, something wrong with reflections I pass in shop windows, and that unshakeable sensation, that instinctive sense that I am never alone.
I think the fact that my parents have gone away for their anniversary makes it worse because the house is empty. I tell myself I’m just being paranoid. I’m struggling to sleep as it is, exams results are soon, after all. Anyway, that’s what I should do now, try and get some rest.
When I wake there’s a noise. A rhythmic pitter-patter outside. Should I cower under my duvet? No. I should look out of the window and see what it is, probably just a fox or something.
Slowly, I climb out from beneath my covers and peer through my gloomy window. There’s a figure. He’s standing in my driveway with his back towards me. He’s shuffling from foot to foot like he’s cold, and he looks like he’s about my age. Some competitive, animal instinct surges through my body. I rush out of my bedroom and grab my dad’s old hockey stick for good measure.
I slam open the front door and stride outside brandishing my makeshift weapon. ‘What are you doing on my driveway?’ I exclaim.
The guy’s hands shoot into the air like I’m aiming an assault rifle at him. ‘Holy moly, don’t hurt me, bro!’ He’s American.
‘It’s the middle of the night,’ I say, pressing on with my menacing facade, ‘what are you doing here? Are you trying to rob me?’
‘No, bro,’ the guy answers, ‘you got me all wrong, dude.’
‘Why are you here then?’
‘I’m just keeping an eye out, making sure you’re all good, y’know?’
‘What the heck is that supposed to—’ My blood boils. ‘Is it you that’s been watching me? Is it you that’s been following me?’
‘Er, yeah. But it’s not what you think, it’s—’
‘Are you some sort of pervert or something?’
‘No, no. I’m Dylan. I’m your guardian angel, bro.’
I can honestly say I was not expecting that. ‘Guardian angel …’ I mutter. ‘Are you mad? No, of course. You’re high. Right, I’m calling the police.’
Dylan drops to his knees. ‘Bro, please, you can’t.’
‘Why can’t I call the police? A stranger on my property in the middle of the night claiming to be a guardian angel? I think the police might be interested in that, bro.’
‘Please,’ Dylan begs, ‘if you call the cops, the guys upstairs – my bosses – they’ll find out and I’ll be in serious doo-doo. Everything I’ve told you is straight up true, I swear it, bro.’
I can’t believe what I say next. ‘If you’re my guardian angel, then where are your wings?’
Dylan looks at me like I’m the mad one. ‘We don’t have wings, dude, that’s just what parents tell their kiddies.’
I start to turn.
‘Wait,’ Dylan calls out, halting me, ‘I’m begging you, man, please don’t call the cops!’
I sigh and lower my hockey stick, maybe he’s ill or something. ‘Well, is there someone I can telephone for you? Someone I can ask to come and collect you?’
‘Collect me?’ Dylan says, confused. ‘I’m exactly where I need to be.’
‘But you can’t stay out here,’ I reply, ‘it’s the middle of the night.’
Dylan’s face lights up. ‘Thought you’d never ask, bro, I’m frozen.’
Before I can stop him, Dylan breezes past me and disappears through my front door.
When I catch up to my guardian angel he’s rooting through my fridge.
‘I’m stoked you’ve got a fridge full of eats, bro.’ Dylan says, stuffing cheese slices into his mouth. ‘I’m starving.’
I lean my dad’s hockey stick against the wall. In the meagre light of the fridge Dylan looks pretty weedy. I honestly doubt he could do me much damage if it came to blows. ‘You can’t stay here, Dylan,’ I say calmly. ‘You have to go.’
‘I totally hear you, bro. Just a quick time out and I’ll head straight back to your front yard.’
‘No, I mean you can’t stay anywhere on this property.’
‘But I’m your guardian angel, dude. I have to stick around and protect you.’
Dylan looks so sincere, so innocent. I let out another sigh. ‘Just eat your fill, I’ll be right back.’
I need advice. This situation is way beyond me. I head up to my room and close my door. I try to call my mum and then my dad. Straight to answerphone both times. Damn.
I trot back downstairs to find Dylan sitting at my kitchen table, eating ham slices and chocolate cake. ‘Dylan, do you have a mobile I can use to call your parents? Or maybe a friend?’
‘Don’t have a cell,’ he answers, after he swallows a mouthful of cake and ham. ‘Oh, and it would be totally rad if you don’t tell anyone we’ve talked. I’m not really supposed to make premature contact with my subject.’
‘Subject? What?’ I shake my head. ‘Dylan, you do understand that I need to find someone to come and get you, to take you back home?’
‘You are my home, dude. At least you are whilst I’m on assignment. What’s your name anyway?’
‘My name? You say you’re my guardian angel and you don’t even know my name?’
‘Sucks, right? They only give us pictures and addresses, say names aren’t important. But what is it? Steve? Dave? Adam – I bet it’s Adam, right?’
‘Hmm. Didn’t have you pegged for a James, dude.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I reply, backtracking, ‘what was it you were saying about an assignment just now?’
Dylan smiles. ‘I’ve been assigned to help you make it through tomorrow, bro. So don’t worry, I got your back.’
I narrow my eyes. ‘What’s happening tomorrow?’
‘Erm, I’m afraid I don’t actually know. I kind of left the assignment doc at my friend Chen’s house. Sorry about that, dude.’
‘Your “assignment doc”?’
‘I’m sorry, man. Chen found this old games console in his basement, and we were playing this righteous racing game, and I sort of lost the doc which explained what’s going down tomorrow.’
I take a deep breath. As bizarre as it is, this is the situation that has landed before me and I need to take control and deal with it.
‘Do guardian angels sleep?’ I ask, formulating a plan.
‘We certainly do, bro.’
‘Then, would you like to stay here tonight? That way we can work out everything together in the morning?’
‘That would be chill,’ Dylan beams. ‘You’re one awesome dude, James!’
Once I’ve shown Dylan to the guestroom, I retrieve my dad’s hockey stick from the kitchen (just to be safe) and set myself up on a chair outside Dylan’s door. Time to play night watchman. It’s only a few hours until morning, then I’ll be able to get hold of my parents. They’ll tell me how to deal with this situation safely and correctly.
I’m woken by a soft shake of the shoulder. ‘Rise and shine, bro.’
My heart jackhammers and I grasp frantically for my hockey stick.
Dylan reaches down to his side. ‘Here it is, bro,’ he says, picking it up for me. ‘You must have dropped it when you fell asleep.’
‘Er – I – thanks,’ I stammer fuzzily, taking it from him.
‘No problem. You really like hockey, huh?’
At first I think Dylan is teasing me but then I realise that, just like last night, he looks wholly sincere. Crap, last night, I need to phone my parents. ‘Do you want me to go and make you some breakfast, Dylan?’ I ask, intent on gaining some privacy.
‘You read my mind, bro. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!’
Once I’m in the kitchen, and Dylan is waiting in the sitting room, I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. It starts to ring before I’ve even unlocked the screen. ‘Hi,’ I answer, expecting my mum or dad.
‘James,’ the voice says, ‘it’s Michael.’
‘Michael?’ I say, surprised to be hearing from my best friend so early. ‘Sorry, but I’m a bit busy at—’
‘Look, James,’ Michael interrupts nervously, ‘you know how I said I was going into school to help mum out yesterday evening?’
‘Well I did, and I managed to sneak into Davenport’s office when mum and the other volunteers went for a coffee break. I had a look through everyone’s results.’
‘Wow. How did we do?’
‘I’m sorry, mate, you only got three C and aboves.’
‘I – oh.’
‘But you got a B in History,’ Michael adds, with a glimmer of forced cheerfulness, ‘and a B in English too, so that’s good.’ But the damage is done. Without five C and aboves the head of sixth form will never let me in. I’m finished.
‘Do you want me to come over?’ Michael asks.
‘No – no, thanks.’
‘Okay, but if you need—’
I hang up, everything turns grey. That’s it, my entire plan; get into sixth form, get my A-levels and go to university, scuppered. What happened? I’m no Einstein, but I was certain I’d done enough to get my five Cs. I was sure of it.
I head up to my bedroom. It’s the only thing I can think to do, crawl under my covers and hide from the world forever.
After half an hour or so, I hear a gentle knock. ‘Everything cool in there, bro?’
‘Go away!’ There is real venom in my voice because I want to be left alone, I just want to wallow in my own misery.
My door bursts open. ‘Did the bad thing happen?’ Dylan exclaims, scanning my room with his fists raised.
‘Dylan,’ I say, as his eyes find me cocooned in my duvet, ‘I just want to be on my own right now.’
‘Just tell me what happened, what’s the matter?’
‘My friend Michael called me,’ I answer, surprised at how honest I’m being. ‘I didn’t do well enough in my exams to get into sixth form.’
Dylan relaxes. ‘Dude, that blows. I’m so sorry.’
‘Thanks,’ I say automatically.
‘I remember the not-doing-well-enough-in-your-exams feeling. I’ll leave you to it.’
‘Wait,’ I say, ‘you didn’t do well in your exams either?’
Dylan shakes his head. ‘Flunked my archangel entrance exams. No performing miracles or chillin’ with the big dog for me.’
‘But you are an angel, you said you’re my guardian angel?’
‘Totally. You don’t need top grades to get on the guardian course. After I failed my archangel exams, I enrolled on the guardian programme instead.’
‘So being here, it’s not what you really want?’
‘I love being a guardian angel, bro! Sounds corny, but I think it’s what I was born to do. Making a difference, it’s what I aspire to, man. The guardian angel course helped me realise that.’
I nod slowly.
‘Do you have any idea what you’ll do now?’ Dylan asks. ‘If you don’t get into sixth form do you have to, like, flip burgers ‘til the end of your days or something?’
I chuckle. ‘No, of course not. There are college courses you can get onto with lower grades, apprenticeships, you can even go off and study abroad.’ I’m taken aback by my own knowledge. I guess some of what the careers people said actually sunk in.
‘Righteous. Well, I guess I’ll leave you to your thoughts, dude.’
‘Okay, see you later, Dylan.’
As Dylan leaves, I close my eyes. I missed a lot of sleep during last night’s excitement and I’m feeling pretty drained.
I wake feeling a lot better. But, when I go downstairs, Dylan’s not in the sitting room. He’s not in the kitchen either. I head for the guestroom.
Inside, the spare bed is made and the sheets are smoothed over. I realise Dylan has gone.
Smiling, I head upstairs and fire up my laptop. Time to do some research, time to find some new life goals. I’m excited.